Empty Chip Bags Flood UK Mailboxes in Protest Against Plastic Packaging

CC BY 2.0. IntangibleArts

It's time food manufacturers took responsibility for their own poor designs.

British chip maker Walkers is being inundated with mail deliveries of its own packaging. An online petition with more than 312,000 signatures so far urges signers to mail their empty chip bags to Walkers as an act of protest against the bags' non-recyclable design.

As petition organizer Geraint Ashcroft explained, the majority of chip packets, made from metallized plastic, are not recyclable or compostable and have been found fully intact up to 33 years after consumption. The UK alone consumes 6 billion bags of chips a year, and Walkers churns out a whopping 11 million bags daily. Ashcroft wrote,

"At today's consumption rate in 33 years' time there will be 200 billion crisp packets either sent to landfill or polluting our oceans. Many will be ingested by animals, fish or birds leading to a slow lingering death."

Mailing the bags to Walkers is a way to hold the company accountable for its packaging and to pressure it to come up with a better design. Because Walkers has what's known as a 'Freepost' address, the Royal Mail postal service is obligated to deliver anything that is addressed correctly -- even if it's an empty chip bag.

The campaign is controversial. Royal Mail isn't happy about it, asking people to put their chip bags in an envelope to help with ease of delivery. Critics on Twitter question the logic of buying a product in order to protest against its manufacturer and suggest that giving up chips altogether would improve one's health, as well as the environment. Supporters point out that nobody is being told to purchase chips specifically for the purpose of protest.

It must be working. Walkers issued a statement on Wednesday, saying it will make its packaging plastic-free by 2025.

"We have received some returned packets and recognize the efforts being made to bring the issue of packaging waste to our attention. The returned packets will be used in our research, as we work towards our commitment of improving the recyclability of our packaging."

2025 seems awfully distant for an issue that's pressing right now. As TreeHugger's comments moderator pointed out, "I wonder why they need seven years to realize that waxed paper bags are how chips used to be packaged." Campaigners agree. Jared Livesey stated on Twitter,

"2025 is too long to wait for you to use plastic free packaging. It's just not good enough. You produce 4 billion packs per year. I'm sending these back to you so you can deal with your own waste. #PacketInWalkers."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but it's indicative of an important shift that's happening in the way people view packaging waste. For years food companies have gotten away with blaming people for poor recycling habits, but that's not fair. It's like "hammering a nail to halt a falling skyscraper." What we're really dealing with is flawed design, and this is something would be addressed most effectively at the point of production.

The more pressure that is placed on manufacturers to change this flawed way of doing things and come up with sustainable, circular packaging designs, the better off we'll all be. I suspect we will be seeing a lot more protests like this #PacketinWalkers one.